The power of an image.
I posted a picture on Instagram and Facebook of two loaves of bread I baked on wednesday. I was proud of them, they were beautiful, they were utterly perfect to me.
I had scored the bread this time with little hesitation and fear it would ruin my loaf, and while it was baking in the oven, I watched trough the oven window in true British Bake Off style how my score cracked open and baked into my most proud bake in my life.
Slightly embarrassed by my pride and joy I mentioned that to you the bread might seem plain, but to me they were special. The answer came in the form of that image becoming the most ever likes picture on my facebook and my instagram feed. You loved it too.
So much that you emailed me for the recipe, to go home and bake these loaves yourself, to see it rise, and bake and fill the house with the smell only bread is capable to induce...
Bread has been a staple since the beginning of time, it evolved from a flat, dense gritty loaf to the small bun sized wheat loaves of the Saxon monks. Wheat and bread was so valuable that often food rents consisted partly of loaves or grain. Wheat and barley would be planted together so if one harvest failed, the barley which was a hardier grain would survive and save the people from the starvation that was luring behind every tree and every sheaf of corn. But harvest failed plenty of times and so bread was made from dried peas and beans. This must have been an very heavy and unpleasant bread but it would provide plenty of nutrition during shortages. Windmills and communal bread ovens can be found in the Domesday book but as they were owned by the manor or monastery, they were not free to use. A portion of the grain or bread dough had to be payed for the use of the mill and oven, therefore the peasants continued to mill the grain themselves using a hand quern that must have taken many long hours of hard labour to end up with a small portion of flour.
People must have suffered from acute toothache with the amount of grit in the bread. Even the upper classes preferred to soak their bread in their all important sauce and have their meat so succulent that it fell of the bone. Chewing would have been difficult if you would have lost most your teeth in your early adulthood.
Bread remains a staple food in the centuries following the Norman conquest and the Middle Ages, but recipes for breadmaking remain unknown from that period except for a mention of the process of bread making in a poem.
Although today bread still remains the most popular base of our diet, it has also become a source of worry with gluten and wheat intolerances becoming nearly as frequent as famine was in ancient times. Although bread has been a staple food for centuries, in the early years it was labour intensive to mill the grain by hand so bread would not have been the thing to fill up the bellies of the poor. They would have had a modest piece of bread, with their pottage, or a piece of cheese but not as plenty as we often have it today.
Wheat has also been modified to an extent that it is easier to harvest, but the quality is less. The need to have everything fast and plenty changed the way we create bread, with added chemicals to make is rise in a fraction of the time if would actually need to break down the enzymes in the grain which make it harder to digest. There is talk of a modern day 'bread belly' with people suffering from the effects from fast factory made bread which has little resemblance to the real bread of our ancestors. In my opinion the modern everlasting, spongy bread, sometimes dyed with malts or molasses to make it appear as a wholewheat loaf while it is not, is a new kind of poverty, the poverty of quality of the most basic of foods. Our daily bread.
So here is my recipe, which I just in true honesty came up with by winging it. It's quite the recipe for a plain white loaf, but strangely enough it came out differently than before. I added a spoon of my precious 1 year old organic wholemeal spelt sourdough starter, and a drizzle of good English rapeseed oil. Other than that of course, (I always use) Cornish sea salt, organic strong white bread flour and water which I first boiled and let cool to tepid before adding organic dried yeast.
To make two 700-800 g loaves
What do you need
- 1 kg of organic strong bread flour, stone ground if you can obtain it, is the best
- 700 ml of tepid water
- 2 heaped tsp of dried yeast
- 20 g of seasalt flakes, not the over processed, white powder kind please
- 1 generous tablespoon of sourdough starter if you have some
- 1 teaspoon of rapeseed oil, or olive oil
Turn on your oven on the lowest setting to just make it nice and warm, then turn off.
Boil water and let it cool until blood heat (tepid is fine) before adding the yeast
In a large bowl or soup pot add the flour and make a well.
Drizzle in your oil, salt and sourdough on the edges without letting them touch eachother.
When you have mixed your yeast with your water start adding it to the well and make a turning movement with a couple of fingers or the back of a wooden spoon to gradually mix the flour with the water and yeast.
Keep on doing this until you get a well mixed dough, now either turn out the dough on a floured surface to knead or do as I do, leave in the bowl and use one hand to pull and twist and push your dough for about 15-20 minutes, constantly turning the dough so you have kneaded it well and the dough is nice and springy. It really is very important to work the dough well.
Now put a shower cap over the bowl to keep the dough from drying out.
Place in your warm oven - please make sure it is not too hot, just like a nice warm summers day - and leave your dough there for an hour or until doubled in size.
I feel my dough rises much better when I do this, I live in a very cool house which is never warm enough to give your dough that cosy feel it needs to feel happy and rise.
After your dough has risen for 30 min to 1 hour, take it out of the oven gently and turn it on to full heat. Mine is 250° C. Also place a baking tray in the oven to heat.
When your oven has preheated knock the dough back by simply removing it from the bowl onto the floured work surface where you can divide and shape it in two for two loaves, or in four long stretches to get a ciabatta style bread, by that I mean one that is perfect for dunking in soup, to serve with cured meats and cheese and so on.
Dust the tops of your loaves with flour and just before you place them on the heated baking tray, score the bread with a very, very sharp knife about 1 cm deep. A stanley style knife works best, other knives are often not sharp enough, and not thin enough to make that all important score.
Place in the middle of your oven, on the heated tray, and chuck a bit of cold water on the bottom of the oven to create steam
Bake for 10 min on full blast
After 10 min turn down to 220°C and leave for 20-25 minutes.
These loaves freeze perfectly, when you need them, defrost in a kitchen towel the evening before and preheat your oven to full blast, place a ramekin with water into the oven with the bread and bake for 5-10 minutes.
Fresh home made bread in 5-10 minutes, epic. Just think ahead and always make two loaves instead of one. 1 kg of flour is also easier to work with that 500 g of flour.
Enjoy and if you bake this bread, show me a pic! I love it when you send me your pictures of your creations!
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What's your favourite bread recipe?
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